Home/Daniel Larison/The Hawkish Delusions Behind Bolton’s PAC

The Hawkish Delusions Behind Bolton’s PAC

John Bolton is reportedly forming a PAC to try to get more foreign policy hard-liners elected to Congress. This line from the article stood out:

But Republican hawks also believe the last presidential race was a missed opportunity to define the party’s message on national security and foreign policy in the post-George W. Bush era.

To be more precise, some of them think the 2012 election was a missed opportunity to spend even more time attacking Obama’s foreign policy record as insufficiently hawkish. Some hawks, including Bolton, said this during the election campaign, and some kept insisting after it was over that Romney had not talked about these issues enough. The reason that this matters is that many Republican hawks remain convinced that promoting hard-line policies is also politically advantageous, and some seem to view public discontent with foreign wars as a passing phase. Even as public opposition to foreign wars has grown and hardened, Republican hawks have continued to imagine that a hard-line foreign policy is what the public really wants if Republicans can just find the right people to sell it. In this view, Romney didn’t make himself a laughingstock on foreign policy by knowing very little about the issues and recycling bad hawkish arguments. Hawks believe that Romney failed to articulate those arguments well enough. Hawks believe this because they can’t or won’t acknowledge the extent to which the debacles of the Bush era discredited them with most of the public, and they still don’t understand that their foreign policy is now a political liability for the party.

Dan Drezner explains why Bolton’s PAC will go nowhere. This should remind us why it would have been very foolish for the Republicans to draw attention to how hawkish their policies would be. Even for a presidential election, interest in foreign policy was quite low last year, so there was no advantage to be gained in the election by dwelling on these issues. Republicans were at a clear disadvantage on foreign policy for the first time in decades, and Romney’s decision to campaign as an aggressive and blustering hawk just confirmed why most Americans were unwilling to trust the party with the presidency just four years after Bush. To the extent that the Republicans needed to talk about foreign policy last year, they needed to reassure the public that they weren’t reckless and aggressive. They chose to spend most of the election campaign doing just the opposite. Bolton’s PAC is founded in part on the delusion that this is smart politics at a time when the public has become increasingly wary of hard-line foreign policy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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